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Community perspective

Will our schools be ready to defend against the pandemic?

School reopens in about 30 days, involving various levels of safety and precaution. Most parents lack the facilities, the time, or the expertise to home-school, myself included.

COVID-19 just crossed the 1% threshold, and numbers from the CDC website on Monday, July 13:

• 4.7% of total cases (2,950,000) aged 5-17, or 116,000 children.

• 0.1% of deaths (106,000) aged 5-17, or 106 children.

• 75.5% of total cases aged 18-64, or 2.2 million working class sick.

• 20.2% of deaths aged 18-64, or 21500 people dead.

Per the Johns Hopkins website: We now have 3.35 million confirmed cases, 1 million have recovered, and 135,000 are dead from COVID-19. Still, it takes a lot longer to recover than it does for people to die. Our country has 2% more cases each day.

When Alaska reopened, Fairbanks had five active cases. Fairbanks has 176 known active cases today. Hospital beds are 75% occupied.

Doctors say results will take 10 days. Ten days ago we had 71 active known cases, suggesting a daily increase of 9%. There might be 240 undiagnosed test results that simply haven’t come back positive yet.

What have we done to flatten the curve? What quality of health care exists when all the beds are full in two weeks? How long will our testing capability take then?

Eighteen weeks ago we got thrown into a pandemic, where suddenly the social contract that we knew no longer applied. Some still have to work despite these risks, some telecommute, some are unemployed, some are retired, and some just fell through the cracks. Still, we quarantined and took precautions to create a safe path forward for our community.

We have 36 schools, more than 600 teachers, and 13,000 children. Our plan is to kick our children out of the nest and onto the front lines of COVID-19, just like the essential workers. Will children remain just 5% of cases?

What is the school district doing to actively contain this virus?

Only basic sanitation and requiring homemade masks. Otherwise, the green, yellow, and red zones are basically reactive by nature.

It pains me to acknowledge that fact, because the district has used federal and state mandates to create the best possible framework they could. Still, when was the last time you saw a school hallway after class?

This virus propagates faster than bureaucracies do. The virus becomes infectious two days after infection. Symptoms become visible after five days. How many days after getting sick will a parent get their child tested? How many days after that will the result come back?

How soon does school gets notified? How many people will already be sick when that school moves from green to yellow or yellow to red?

I don’t want my children growing up knowing a teacher, friend, or classmate who died. The trauma of doing both schoolwork and social interaction remotely is unquestionably less risky than the trauma inflicted by a child wondering if they have gotten sick and will soon die, or worse yet, infect a family member who then succumbs to this virus.

Creating a new social contract is an active process to keep each of us at our own level of safety. This pandemic sucks for everyone. We don’t need a reign of terror.

We have 4,400 unemployed people struggling to get by in Fairbanks today. Surely many have home-schooled their children alongside the amazing remote-learning arm of their teacher, as my family has these past few months. How about creating a remote learning assistant position to support remote learning?

This position could open their home to four to six assigned children from one class (two, should multiple grade levels exist in the group), and is responsible for facilitating the hands-on portion of their teachers’ remote learning. These children could have the social time that has been sorely missing these past eighteen weeks without putting hundreds of children at risk from one Outbreak? Perhaps even create a stipend for PPE, school lunches, classroom consumables, and possibly additional training.

You could even rotate these groups through school at leisurely pace to give them direct face time with their teachers. That enables the school district to test children individually without possible bias, and still maintain control of the curriculum.

The only known method we have of combating this virus is twofold: social distancing and PPE. They knew that with the Spanish flu, and it is the same today. How about we use the knowledge and strengths that we have to our advantage?

Stay safe.

Wyatt Hurlbut lives in Fairbanks.

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